Firing Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Fernandez, noting the wave of retired generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation for various failings in Iraq, points out that “Secretary Rumsfeld is only the ‘near enemy’. If the criticisms are taken seriously they must be an indictment against the ‘far enemy’ as well — President Bush.” That strikes me as exactly right.
To the extent going to war in Iraq was a bad idea, period, then Bush is responsible–regardless of how much Rummy, Cheney, Rove, or whoever was pushing him in that direction. He hired them. He listened to them. He decided. Of course, Congress backed the move enthusiastically and Bush was re-elected long after the WMD rationale for the war disintegrated and the insurgency got out of control.
If the argument is simply that the war was executed badly–not enough boots on the ground, inadequate planning for counterinsurgency, poor infowar strategy, etc.–then the generals bear as much, if not more, responsibility than Rumsfeld. Post-Goldwater Nichols (1986), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been the statutory military advisor to the president. The generals therefore have direct and unfettered access to the president and have a voice independent of the SECDEF before both the president and Congress. (Whether that’s a good idea is an open question. See Colonel Charles Dunlap for a negative view.)
Fernandez points out that “One criticism independent of policy holds that Secretary Rumsfeld is a poor manager; a busybody; a man who will not listen and won’t let subordinates get on with their jobs.” He is ambivalent about this, saying history will judge. Certainly, he has managed to ruffle the feathers of many senior leaders and even many field grade officers I have talked to dislike the man. That, however, is either a sign that Rumsfeld is a smug jerk or that he’s standing firm against bureaucratic intransigience. I suspect it’s a bit of both.